This climate of dissatisfaction within many UK universities has been triggered by concerns over COVID safety during face-to-face teaching, as well as the increased workload due to blended online and in-person teaching.
Students are due to return to universities in a staggered succession, with all students undergoing two COVID-19 tests before in-person teaching commences.
However, the national UCU has expressed concern for both the recent round of student mass testing (as students return home), and the lack of information released about testing ahead of a return to campuses at the start of 2021.
The Guardian investigated lecturers’ opinions on the impact of the teaching, and their findings show concern over university handling of in-person teaching, and staff workloads.
One lecturer told the Guardian : “To say we feel abandoned and disposable would be putting it too mildly”, and another commented: “I am seriously terrified of going in, especially because we are hearing that students don’t report their symptoms in fear of being locked in [their accommodation].”
The UCU general secretary Jo Grady added: “Staff face unmanageable workloads and incredibly high levels of stress, constantly adjusting their teaching to ever-changing government guidelines and management demands, whilst colleagues and students yo-yo in and out of self-isolation and lockdown.”
As more UCU campus branches engage in balloting for strike action, it seems likely that national university staff strikes are imminent.
Newcastle’s UCU branch are currently voting on whether or not to take strike action. The decision to vote on strike action was made following an Extraordinary General Meeting last month, after a failure to reach an agreement with the university over staff concerns.
This decision also follows the Northumbria UCU’s successful ballot to strike last month, in which 66.5% of members voted to take strike action, and 89.9% of members voting to take action short of a strike.
Newcastle’s balloting period ended on the 18th December, and the outcome of this vote will shed light on whether the university may experience more strikes, similar to those in November and February of last academic year.